Jane Eyre Laid Bare: Put it away, love.
I can’t tell you how relieved I was when it arrived in its innocuous brown paper packaging. I shoved it straight into the front pocket of my hoodie and waited to open it until I was sitting in the middle of my bed with the door closed. First released only as an E-Reader, a tactic seemingly calculated to spare closet consumers of erotic fiction embarrassment on the tube, Jane Eyre Laid Bare, by Charlotte Brontë and Eve Sinclair, has been much anticipated, positively reviewed, and now released in printed form. Bullet in hand, I was prepared to like it…
I’ve nothing against fanfiction per se. But to give it an erotic slant and write something that resonates successfully with an author’s original creations, a fan must immerse themselves deeply in the author’s mind-set, (as many members of www.fanfiction.net apparently succeed in doing with Twilight, being high school or college students, or latent vampires, themselves). I’m a great ‘fan’ of all three Brontë sisters, but in no way knowledgeable enough (or minded) to write a ‘fic’. So when I first picked up the novel, it was with considerable respect for the Herculean amount of biographical and critical research which Sinclair must have undertaken, and for her careful examination of the original text’s language before attempting to emulate it. But most of all for the literary sensitivity which must surely be required to water and cultivate the seeds of erotica sewn by Brontë. However this respect turned out to be premature.
Sinclair slices Jane Eyre like a boned chicken, and assembles her book by alternating what she perceives to be the choicest cuts of plot with some stuffing of her own. She makes a sterling effort to get her writing style to merge with Brontë’s, (peppering her prose with the odd retro-sounding word like “nicety” and “forth”), but this effort is all too visible.
The stylistic contrasts between Brontë’s novel and its onanistic offspring are pronounced: the difference in the typical length of their sentences is immediately apparent. Brontë’s vary considerably, while Sinclair’s are uniformly medium to (too) long; the longer of Brontë’s are so because they are full of happenings, and unable to produce these poly-clausal masterpieces, Sinclair makes do with adjectives. These feel like filler and often become tautologies. Brontë’s prose is a welcoming host to the semi-colon; Sinclair’s isn’t (but at times it feels like it issued from one…).
The features of Jane Eyre which endure as she is ‘laid bare’ provide welcome peaks to Sinclair’s troughs. There is, however, something inescapably tokenistic about their inclusion, making for a narrative which is disjointed to the point of including bumpy, pre-macadamised coach travel as an aide-masturbatoire as the author strives for a sliver of historic authenticity. It is perhaps in deliberate sympathy with this that the quality of the erotica itself is appalling. It is lumpy and repetitive, and Eyre’s vagina shows up as a metaphorical flower with tedious regularity. Sinclair chooses a sort of valiant and mulish literalism over literary sensitivity in order to will those ‘seeds of erotica’ into germination.
This is not Jane Eyre laid bare, a concept for a novel which, were I employed, I would happily pull a sickie to curl up in bed with. This is Jane Eyre obfuscated by episodes in which she morphs into a Modern Woman with roughly the same degree of subtlety that Shrek’s Princess Fiona transforms nightly into an ogress; she has that ill-advised but inevitable need to know about ‘every woman [Rochester] has ever been with’, a yen which might strike a chord with Sinclair’s readership, but would have been unarguably alien to Brontë’s.
By hacking it to bits, Sinclair lays into, rather than lays bare, the finely-crafted undercurrent of burgeoning attraction of the original, leaving lacunae which she plugs with the inane (Rochester prefers his laydeez with –at least a rudimentary- Brazilian bikini wax), the laudable but unfeasible (surreptitious penetrative sex on horseback), and a hilarious surprise (the first Mrs Rochester isn’t mad, she’s just a dominatrix-cum-interior-designer, who has been given a free reign of the top floor). To this last, a brief return to the original text brings to light the added complexity of Bertha Mason’s lineage; for “she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three generations,” (Jane Eyre, Ch26). When sadomasochism is substituted for inherited madness, should we assume that, within the context of the novel, it, similarly, is a genetic trait? Perhaps all three generations of Creole antecedents were equally into fetish, PVC-clad and bristling with nipple-clamps and gimp masks at family get-togethers…
The ne plus ultra of Laid Bare’s failure to engage with the original text comes when Sinclair’s Eyre frigs herself while reminiscing about receiving oral sex from a friend under the desk in the library at Lowood. She does this only moments before donning immaculate clothing and proceeding to teach her first lesson (at long last one of the bits which also happens in the Brontë version). It has the feeling of being included in Sinclair’s text, simply because we know that an awareness of lesbian love sort of existed before that time (think of Coleridge’s Christabel or de Musset’s Gamiani). But is this enough of a justification for shoehorning it into the novel?
With a thoughtful nod to Brontë’s text, Sinclair’s Eyre befriends her partner-in-cunnilingus, Emma Wilby, after her “dearest friend” Helen Burns is carried off in the school-wide outbreak of typhus. If the author had done her homework, she would have known that, in the original text, Helen Burns is a literary representation of Maria, the eldest Brontë sister, who died of consumption at the age of 12, and she might have considered leaving it a little less ambiguous how early on in Eyre’s new friendship the pair started “ignigt[ing] shimmering dart[s] of pleasure” (Jane Eyre Laid Bare, Ch1) into one another. Sneezy, snotty, underage sex… No thank you, Sinclair.
The beauty of the romance which unfolds in Jane Eyre lies partly in the accuracy with which Brontë identifies the subtlest of human emotions, and translates them into writing which simmers as a result. All things considered, Sinclair should probably have left it on the hob. It boils over anyway, in the imagination of an empathetic reader. And talking of things that simmer, this is undoubtedly a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth; neither Jane Eyre, nor Edward Rochester, (nor indeed Edward Rochester’s horse), sit comfortably upon a bandwagon powered by the voracious appetite for the writings of E. L. James.
Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Eve Sinclair and Charlotte Brontë (Pan, 13th September 2012, ISBN-13: 978-1447229285) is available for £5.99 (paperback) and £3.96 (Kindle) on www.amazon.co.uk.